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Training a new puppy

Updated Nov 30, 2002

In the summer of 2002, I raised two 8-week of females GSPs, from weaned puppy to started bird dog. Beginning with their introduction to birds, gunfire and all the rest that goes with being a bird dog and culminating with a successful 4-day hunting trip to South Dakota in October just prior to their being shipped to Japan to be with their new owners. This project was alot of fun. I miss these pups alot, but I know that they are doing well due to the nice start I gave them. You can do the same thing with your young bird dog, it just takes time and patience. Of course you must remember the most important thing about making a bird dog...start with a bird dog!!

June 1, 2002 Ok, here's the "new recruit" at about 7 weeks of age. Her name is "Sala". Sala will be going to live and hunt in Japan come this November. We'll have made a hunting dog out of her by then and you can do the same this summer with your new recruit. But first, we have alot of work to do. Stay tuned and check back often!!
June 25, 2002"Sala" is now about 10 weeks old. This is the way I get alot of work done with a brand new pup; in my summer grubby garb, in the front yard. Hey, at least it keeps the neighbor kids away, right? This doesn't involve alot of time, but you must try to get to the pup every day for at least 15 or 20 minutes. Dog training is just repetition and patience. In the summer you have lots of time for both. It takes very little equipment and you don't have to take the dog anywhere, at first. It's mostly just playing with the pup in the yard. Here the pup is 12 weeks old and I'm starting in earnest to see if she wants to be a hunting dog this Fall.
Some things you need to do every time you get the dog out at this age. I like to just call the pup by name alot while playing in the yard and call him to me, have him chase me, maybe throw a ball or an old sock for the pup a bit. Maybe let the pup play with the older dog for a couple minutes. This is all just letting the pup know that when we get her out of the run, it's alot of fun. Let nothing "bad" happen to the pup at this stage, just let her rip and tear for awhile every day and get her to just enjoy being with you and slowly introduce her to her life as a bird dog. One thing I do every day, that I don't have a picture of as it's not really training and it's so simple... I put the travel kennel in the car and put the pup in it for a few minutes, everyday. Every time I put the pup in the crate, I say "kennel" and shut the door and leave for a few minutes. Again it's not "training" per se, however, cars and crates are such a big part of the life of a bird dog, you have to start this early. This pup already has a couple thousand "road miles" on her. She is too little yet to jump up in the car and get in her crate, but I do this once a day and I take her with me alot on the weekends when I go fishing or whatever and if you do this right, before she is big enough to do it herself, she will be trying to get into the crate herself when you say "kennel" and point toward that open crate door.
Now, some things you need to do every day as you go, like the kenneling thing, others like this next little test, you should do only ONE TIME, twice at the most if needed. What we have here is the introduction to birds the way I do it. Again, in the yard at about 12 weeks of age. I take a cold, dead bird and just teast the pup a bit with it. I am just looking for a reaction here. If I get good reaction, I just let this go and move on the a fresh killed bird and then live birds out at the training grounds in another week or two.
I actually tried this with an old pheasant wing about a week ago as I didn't have a frozen bird around and no one was around to take pictures. This pup about tore my hand off trying to get that wing from me right from the jump. I don't think birds are going to be any problem with "Sala". I just played with her with the wing for about 2 minutes a week ago as I saw all I needed to see in that couple of minutes. This pup is ready to be introduced to birds NOW. For these pictures I just saved a shot pigeon from last weekends training with the older dogs and you can see that Sala really wants to get that bird. I do not let her "catch" the bird, but I just play with her and tease her in a way that that she can strongly associate with me and having fun. I give lots of praise to the dog for trying to get the bird. Again the purpose is to gauge her aggressiveness on birds at this point so I can see how soon and quickly I might get her into live birds. The answer here is "immediately if not sooner!!". For a short movie on what this session looks like click below.
July 8, 2002 "Sala" is now about 14 weeks old. What I have been doing for the last two weeks is just a lot of conditioning Sala to the ways of the life of the modern bird dog. I have been working with her on getting used to the leash, collar and lead. Not really training heel or anything yet, just making her wear a collar and drag a short leash around. I've been taking her with me when I take the older dogs out and have let her chase a live, tethered pigeon around one time. She loves birds. I am not worried about her wanting to hunt and point birds. She will once her brain tells her that she is a bird dog; a hunter. It has not yet and it may not for sometime. So, we'll do other things.

I am going to wait for her gun introducion until after she is really hunting released pigeons with her nose. Which she is not doing yet. Most pup's noses don't seem to "turn on" until they are about 20 weeks old. I have also just started taking her in the field for short walks, just to get used to staying in touch with me and getting around in the cover. I am just a bit stuck here with her now for something new to do. One reason is that her nose is not turned on to smelling birds yet. In a few more weeks she will start tuning in to more than her food dish with her nose. This is a purely developmental impass that will only pass with her getting a bit older. When it happens, it's like someone throwing a light switch. One day they don't and won't hunt and the next day they act like they have been hunting all their lives. The other thing thing related to her age is that she is small yet and our cover is high already with all our heat this summer; and then there is the heat to deal with. 10 minutes of anything and we've both had it. Just goes to show you that the training of every pup is different, no matter how many times you go throuh it. And each year is different. You are really at the mercy of the weather and cover some times. Sala will need to get a bit more size on her to tackle the cover better and her nose needs to turn on to hunting birds. Both of those things may not happen for a month yet. Then I'll be able to really start working her on hunting. Until then, the cover we will go out in will be lighter and I'll start just teaching her to turn to me with the whistle and stay in contact with me. No big thing really as a young pup of this age isn't going to just run off somewhere anyway...

A good trick I saw at a seminar for this is to simply carry a live pigeon with you on a short pole and tether. Release the dog and hunt off in one direction. Then as the pup gets away a bit from you, but can still see and hear you, whistle to the pup and start walking in a NEW direction but release the tethered bird and let it flap all around you as you hold onto the pole. Don't let the pup catch the bird or anything, maybe let her chase it just for a second when she gets in to you. Just keep walking and calling the pup periodically until the pup comes in and sees this bird and then of course, freaks out. Once the pup is in and going in the direction you want her to, just put the bird back in your pocket, praise the dog for being so smart and just keep on walking and send the dog off to hunt and repeat. The pup will soon associate the whistle with this excitement of the flopping bird and will start to check in for the fun each time you call her. I have done this with one other pup in their field introduction and it works really well. They really want to stay in touch with you and will learn then, to hunt around you for birds by doing this as it is a logical extension to when you start working the pup on planted or released birds later. The pup learns that the fun and the birds are generally pretty close to where you are hunting when you are out together.

Sala does aggressively pick up and carry dead pigeons around without any qualms at this time. The first one I threw for her in the training grounds parking lot, she just ran over and scooped it right up and ran off into the woods with it. Many dogs just will not pick birds up when they are little as they are hard to get ahold of correctly and they just play with them rather than really pick them up and hold them in their mouths. Here, this pup has aleady learned at 14 weeks, or had better instinct for, I guess, picking the bird up properly by the body. I'll just leave that alone for now, but it has been nice to see her do that so well. They are all different and will all throw you little curves. I'll leave this alone for now as I want her to learn to hunt and point before we really start fooling with retrieving birds. I'll try to find a toy or something she likes to retrieve for me in the yard instead for the time being.

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